A new City & Guilds (C&G) training course for school caterers has been criticised for its lack of practical content.
The one-day Level 1 Award in Providing a Healthier School Meals Service, which teaches school cooks about nutrition and how to market meals, has raised concerns because it fails to tackle the issue of kitchen craft skills.
Former Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) chairman Neil Porter said: "It needs to be more hands-on and teach caterers how to make food more nutritious. There's too much emphasis on marketing."
Food service consultant Julian Edwards agreed: "Caterers need to learn how to use aroma and taste to promote food. Most schools lack these basic skills."
Caterer‘s exclusive school kitchens survey, which was completed by a quarter of LACA's senior catering managers (representing 10,000 schools), supported these views. Many respondents slammed the current training provision for its red tape and vagueness.
"People doing this job do not want college-based courses," said one catering manager. "They want knife skills, menu planning and tandardised recipes across the authority."
Another said: "We need to know how to prepare and cook vegetables properly, basic pastry work, vegetarian cookery and how to present food appealingly."
Pam Rabone, chief verifier for catering and hospitality at C&G, defended the course as a good start. "Although this is only a small step, we hope it will encourage schools and caterers to adopt a whole-school approach to the issue."
She said that two advanced levels would be added in the future.
Matt Lardy, product manager for service industries at C&G, said he hoped 10,000 of the country's 80,000 school caterers would take the six-hour course in the first year. "The Government wants most catering staff to take the exam within three years and we hope to increase the number of training centres from 30 to 200 over the next 12 months."
But Porter believed that a wider review of training was needed. "We have to look at NVQs and in-house training and bring it all into line. Different authorities are providing training at very different levels," he said.
By Tom Bill